Barbara Van Cleve | Through Her Lens

Powerful photographs by Big Timber artist on display at Yellowstone Art Museum

Art Beat

Through Her Lens: The Photographs of Barbara Van Cleve opened in April at the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings. The exhibition showcases a selection of 50 photographs from Van Cleve’s collection in the Montana Gallery through June 25.

Barbara Van Cleve, Double Duty ©1987, Ed.#11 Archival Pigment Print
Barbara Van Cleve, Double Duty ©1987, Ed.#11 Archival Pigment PrintPhoto © Barbara Van Cleve

The Big Timber artist’s aesthetic and documentary black and white images of ranch life offer a sharp contrast to fictional, romantic portrayals of the West. Subjects of transfixing night scenes, the Great Montana Centennial Cattle Drive, the Spanish Mission Trail in Baja, California, and Mexico, and tough, working ranch women have captured her attention over the past 30-plus years.

YAM hosts three related events

Spiritual Significance of the Crazy Mountains by Dr. Shane Doyle (Apsáalooke), 5 p.m. reception and 6 p.m. presentation, Thursday, April 27; Doyle will provide insight into the Apsáalooke community’s ancient and profound connection to the Crazy Mountains (Awaxaawippiia).

Women in Ranching Panel Discussion, 5 p.m. reception and 6 p.m. presentation, Thursday, May 4; Barbara Van Cleve, Caroline Nelson, Karen Heyneman, and Monica McDowell discuss sustainability, regenerative agriculture, challenges and changes in ranching practices, and other topics. This panel is in partnership with the Northern Plains Resource Council.

Artist’s Talk with Barbara Van Cleve, 5 p.m. reception and 6 p.m. talk, Thursday, June 1; the artist will talk about her life and photography.

More on Through Her Lens

Van Cleve’s lifelong commitment to photography ignited when she was 11 years old and her parents gave her a “Brownie” camera and home-developing kit. Growing up on the Lazy K Bar Ranch in the eastern shadows of the Crazy Mountains, she turned the camera lens on what she knew best, cattle ranching, horses, and the surrounding landscape. Her photos were often taken from the vantage point of horseback, with deft timing and selection.

As a champion of women in ranching, Van Cleve balances the existing mythic cowboy with feminist realism. In her photograph titled Double Duty, a woman adorned in a cowboy hat, chaps, and oven mitt pulls a casserole from the oven.

Throughout the exhibit, women show prominently among images of horseback riders nearly lost in the dusty atmosphere of moving cattle, the timed release of a well-slung rope, quiet conversations among ranch hands, and an imposing and sacred mountain range generating strong and shifting weather patterns – significant moments in ranch life.

Van Cleve was among six creative Montanans to receive a 2022 Governor’s Arts Award, the state’s highest honor for those working in the visual, performing, literary, and traditional arts.

Visit the museum website for more information.